Thoughts on Labyrinths


Ideas? Thoughts? Opinions? I noticed that the 2014 LA REC was going to have one, and wanted to know whether this is suitable for a Catholic gathering.


It depends, most of them are based on the one in the Cathedral of Chartes, so there is definitely a positive Catholic history.

The use has to be Catholic though, traditionally, the final quarter of that labyrinth was said on one’s kneels, reciting the Miserere (Psalm 51)

That is not exactly how that particular labyrinth is used nowadays…


My philosophy is caution always, but that does not seem to be popular.


The undercover (plain clothes) Benedictine sisters with whom we recently stayed in granOregon were quick to point their labyrinth out. Notably, they did not emphasize the chapel or the Blessed Sacrament. Despite their traditional use, the current labyrinths seem to be directed at the very recent and seemingly Buddhist-inspired concept of “centering prayer”

Trappist monks introduced and popularized centering prayer in the early 1970s. [edited]

Isn’t Christ the “center” of our faith? Is He not the source and summit of our belief? Centering on the self? Ugh. This makes me uncomfortable, since it is all so subtle, and the devil is the most subtle of all creatures.

What do we expect to find in all of this that cannot be found in a pilgrimage to the Blessed Sacrament? If we need prayer combined with movement and contemplation, do we not have the Stations of the Cross and other devotions?

Honestly, despite their apparently orthodox European origins, today’s labyrinths smack of new age nonsense.

Thomas Merton, Buddhism and Centering Prayer

My thought on this particular use case are not reproducible here on the forums in public.


That last sentence really says it all! I agree. Most labyrinth enthusiasts have hijacked the original spiritual meaning into new age thinking.

The Catholic Church has a treasury of beautiful devotions. We don’t need novelties that are not truly focused on Christ.


Forgive my ignorance, but could someone please explain what a labyrinth is please? This is the fourth time today I had heard of these at Catholic retreats, but I had never heard of one before today. I just imagine something from a horror movie, or the inner ear (I’ve had labyrinthitis–inner ear infection–twice in the last three years). I’m sure neither of those are applicable here. Sorry for derailing, but I really am curious what these are and what their purpose is supposed to be.


A labyrinth is a path that a person walks while praying. They can take many shapes but this is a popular one:

Can they be misused? I’m sure any form of prayer can be misused. But many people like this type of prayer and find it beneficial.


Thank you!


If you want to see the labyrinth being used at the LA REC, here’s a video from 2012 that shows the area known as ‘Sacred Space.’


My friend built a labyrinth in her yard. I have walked it many times, often praying or chanting the Rosary. Sometimes labyrinths are used for non-Christian purposes, but the labyrinth is still a part of the history of the Church. Just because some people use it for New Age or other purposes doesn’t mean one can’t walk the labyrinth and focus on Christ.


I think when more emphasis is put on the labyrinth than Christ, then there is something wrong. But for some I can see this enhancing their faith, their “walk” with God. Kinesthetic learners might find this quite fruitful.


As an artist and art historian who has lectured and written extensively on Catholic art and symbolism, ( I am truly disturbed by the growing fad of a labyrinths in churches with an entirely false interpretation presenting itself as Catholic while it is, in fact, distinctly “New Age” – old pagan - Neolithic - in its origin. The fad for walking labyrinths, is not an ancient Catholic tradition, but was inaugurated in this country some years back by an Episcopalian “priestess.”

It is true that the engraved image of a labyrinth is to be found at Chartres Cathedral and other churches as pointed out in the above commentary, but the faithful did not walk to the center as to a holy site, as stated, but quite the opposite.

The labyrinth at Chartres, placed over the ancient shrine to the pagan goddess of fertility, “Belthane” and directly below the famous “Rose Window” dedicated to Our Lady, originally had a bronze plaque at the center which read, “This stone (engraving) represents the Cretan’s Labyrinth. Those who enter cannot leave unless they are helped, like Theseus, by Ariadne’s thread.” For the medieval mind, steeped in the Classics, the labyrinth, especially its center, was a symbol of evil and doom. ( In Virgil’s Aenead, the descent to Hades is via a labyrinth) The reference to Ariadne and her thread were clearly understood to be a reference to the Blessed Mother and the need for her aid to save one’s soul from perdition. It is a historical fact that priests would often assign as penance after confession, that the penitent sinner crawl on his knees out from the center while reciting certain prayers. The symbol of the labyrinth is, indeed, universal but has a different meaning for the Christian as opposed to the pagan or “New Ager” who seeks religious experience at the “mystic center.” The Christian rather seeks “the Other” ( God and neighbour) out side of himself and the labyrinth.

It is a pity that the discernment in these matters of visual symbolism has been lost to our present generation, perhaps due to the lack of education in Catholic Art History at our institutions of higher learning and seminaries. The documents of Vatican II clearly state the need for such education.


It is my understanding that labyrinths became a popular stand in for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.


Whose place is it to decide if one needs correction and then to correct? especially when dead after a life of faithfulness.

Urging caution in writing is different from personal detraction such as, “quite possibly was seduced by Buddhism”.

Let us recall and excellent reminder from moderator Thomas Casey

closed #16

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